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Never-Ending Superheroes: Here Come the Defenders and the Tick

Meanwhile, “The Tick” is fundamentally a satire, one that pokes fun at the conventions of comic-book narratives and the many media spinoffs they’ve spawned.

But in its latest incarnation, “The Tick” — which is coming to TV for the third time — is also trying to see how much of the gravity in modern comic-book adaptations it can incorporate without losing its sense of humor.

“To do a superhero comedy now and make it worth its salt, it had to matter to itself,” said Ben Edlund, the creator of “The Tick.”

“That’s what we’re doing,” he added. “We’re aggressively mattering to ourselves, and I recommend it.”

Mirroring the strategy that Marvel used for its “Avengers” movie franchise, “The Defenders” draws from the previous Netflix shows “Daredevil” (starring Mr. Cox), “Jessica Jones” (starring Krysten Ritter), “Luke Cage” (starring Mike Colter) and “Iron Fist” (starring Finn Jones).

Marvel’s The Defenders | Official Trailer 2 [HD] | Netflix Video by Netflix

All set in a version of New York where its characters cross paths, do battle and (occasionally) have sex with each other, these shows have been rolled out at a breakneck pace since Marvel and Netflix announced them in 2013.


Mike Colter, center.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

Each has its own creative team and varying narrative tones: For example, “Daredevil,” now approaching its third season, is a neo-noir about a blind lawyer turned costumed vigilante; while “Jessica Jones,” heading into its second season, has offered a rugged redemption story about a private investigator haunted by past trauma.

“Bringing these characters together into one world is going to require a dramatic shift from all of their individual shows,” Mr. Cox said. “That has made this show feel very different.”

Around the no-frills set of “The Defenders” in early March, its actors teased and toyed with one another; like their characters, they have bonded from their past encounters and the ad hoc circumstances of this reunion.

Crammed together in a small production office adjoining their set, Ms. Ritter and Mr. Colter spent a shooting break bantering about each other’s dietary habits.

“Mike always has some commentary on whatever we’re eating,” Ms. Ritter said. “‘Oh, you’re going to eat a banana? That’s how you get belly fat.’”

Right on cue, Mr. Colter replied, “Split one with a pal if you’re going to have one.”

That good-natured mockery is a welcome respite from a relentless work schedule. Mr. Jones, still damp with sweat from a fight scene he’d just shot, described how in 2016 he finished shooting “Iron Fist” and, within hours, was onstage at New York Comic Con to introduce “The Defenders.”

“We started filming at 5 p.m. and didn’t finish until 10 a.m. the next day,” he said. “On two hours’ sleep, I’m watching myself on a stage, trying to process what this last six months has all been about.”

Mr. Jones added: “We’re trying to do movie-quality storytelling on a television time-frame and budget. Everyone’s slammed around the clock, all the time.”

That back-to-back scheduling of its shows seems to have caught up with Marvel: A few days after this set visit, “Iron Fist” was released, and it was widely criticized for a first season that felt aimless and a story that inserted a Caucasian hero into an Asian martial-arts milieu. (For Season 2 of “Iron Fist,” Marvel has replaced the original showrunner, Scott Buck, with Raven Metzner, citing a scheduling conflict.)


Krysten Ritter

Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

A world in which audiences are constantly re-evaluating comic-book narratives would seem to play to the strengths of “The Tick.” Its tongue-in-cheek story about an invulnerable and lovably dense adventurer in a giant insect costume was first told in a series of comics from the late 1980s, when Batman and a host of caped crusaders were turning gravely serious.

Fox ran an animated “Tick” series on Saturday mornings from 1994 to 1996, but a live-action prime time comedy, starring Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld”) ran just nine episodes on the network in 2001.

In the years since, Mr. Edlund has continued to work as a writer, producer and director on fantasy and genre shows like “Firefly,” “Angel,” “Supernatural” and “Gotham.” He has watched as interconnected superhero franchises — the Marvel and DC movies, TV shows on CW and Netflix — have overrun the pop-cultural landscape. (On Monday, Netflix said it was acquiring Millarworld, the comic-book publisher behind the “Kingsman” and “Kick-Ass” franchises, for new projects.)

Through it all, Mr. Edlund wondered if the time was right to bring back “The Tick.”

“People can’t turn around anywhere without seeing 12 superhero dramas,” said Mr. Edlund, a slender, longhaired man who described himself as possessing “the proportions of a bike.”

The enduring obsession with comic-book characters, he said, “is a perfect prey for our comedy.”

He added, “You want to be able to laugh at what is, essentially, a sky made gray with a surplus of capes and boots.”

Even so, Mr. Edlund said this version of “The Tick” actually takes the underlying mythologies of other superhero shows quite seriously. It’s a reflection of the stark seriousness he sees in other narratives, and an element that distinguishes the Amazon series from earlier incarnations of “The Tick.”

“We’re utterly hypocritical, putting forward our own very earnest hero myth, as if we’re completely oblivious idiots,” he said. “I like the meta-level of nonsense that we can be accused of.”

The Tick – Official US Trailer | Amazon Video Video by Amazon Video

The new live-action series is as much about its title character (played by Peter Serafinowicz) as it is about his sidekick, Arthur, who was essentially comic relief in the earlier shows.

Arthur (Griffin Newman) is now a young man who, as a child, saw his favorite superhero team and his father killed in a sinister scheme hatched by a criminal called the Terror (Jackie Earle Haley).

Years later, Arthur is still disturbed by these events and preoccupied by a paranoid certainty that the Terror remains at large. Then the Tick comes into his life, urging him to accept his destiny as a righted of wrongs, which makes Arthur even more skeptical of his own sanity.


Peter Serafinowicz as the Tick.

Amazon Prime Video

Mr. Serafinowicz, a British comic actor (“Spy,” “Shaun of the Dead”), said that the show operates in a space “where superheroes and supervillains exist, and everyone plays it for real.”

Speaking from his trailer, where his Tick costume hung nearby like a peeled-off layer of skin, Mr. Serafinowicz described his characters as “this big, blue lunatic.”

“When he appears,” he said, “even the superheroes in this real world are looking at him like, who the hell is this?”

If “The Tick” can get away with this blend of solemnity inherent in Arthur’s story and silliness provided by its title character, it will be, in part, because the comic-book tropes it plays on are now ubiquitous.

Growing up a lonely comic-book fan, Mr. Newman said, “If someone else said they liked Spider-Man, that was a beacon — ‘We have to talk about this.’”

The precise details of superhero origin stories, he said, “used to be things that a random person stopped on the street wouldn’t understand.” Now, Mr. Newman said, “Everybody knows Batman’s parents get killed. Whatever.”

For the stars of “The Defenders,” a sense of duty comes with their roles — to portray their characters in ways consistent with decades of comic-book continuity and multiple seasons of their own shows.

Mr. Cox recalled an early draft of a “Defenders” script where his character, Matt Murdock, was supposed to say that a day didn’t go by where he didn’t wish for his sight to return. But after remembering a scene in a Daredevil comic where the hero says he has no regrets about his blindness, Mr. Cox asked for the line to be changed.

“I question myself less now when I feel strongly about something,” he said. “That’s the stuff I care about.”

On “The Tick,” Mr. Edlund said there was honor, too, in taking inspiration from the monolithic media companies responsible for the most popular superhero characters, but telling his own stories on the fringes of the mainstream.

His show, he explained, is “a totally autonomous universe that can borrow from DC or Marvel all it wants, all day, and has the right to be stupid-funny.

“It’s true that DC and Marvel are the McDonald’s and Burger King in our world. But there’s also room for Jack in the Box.”

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